Scottish Human Rights Activists Tell UN, UK Government Austerity is Breaching International Law

Monday 01 October, 2018 Written by  The National
Scottish Human Rights Activists Tell UN, UK Government Austerity is Breaching International Law

Leading Scottish human rights experts and academics have urged a UN special rapporteur to consider evidence that the UK Government is continuing to breach international law as a result of its austerity and welfare reform policies.

The claims – by organisations including the Scottish Human Rights Commission (SHRC), charities such as Poverty Alliance, public law firms, and leading academics in social affairs – are included in submissions to UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston.

The professor of law at New York University is coming to the UK on an official and “significant” visit from November 6 until November 16. During the fact-finding mission, he will examine the link between poverty and human rights in the UK. The visit will include two days in Scotland.

In 2016 the UN found UK welfare reforms had led to “grave and systemic violations” of disabled people’s rights. Yet experts in human rights and poverty claimed that the situation had worsened in the past two years, with cuts to public services compounding harsh welfare reforms, as well as tax expenditure decisions that further penalise the poor.

Scottish Human Rights Commission SHRC books

Image: The Scottish Human Rights Commission (SHRC)

Judith Robertson, chair of the SHRC, which has submitted evidence to Alston’s team, said: “This visit is very significant – any visit from a UN special rapporteur is an indication that there’s concern about what’s happening in the UK.

She claimed that the organisation believed state policies were undermining the most basic of rights. In its submission, made by a group of 11 people who have experienced poverty and supported by SHRC, it raised difficulties in accessing even adequate housing and food.

Robertson said that situation had worsened since the UN’s previous report on disability. “Since then there has been an increasing infringement on human rights,” she said. “These include those affecting women, particularly poor women and single lone parents. We know that people of ethnic minorities have been disproportionately impacted.

“We continue to see austerity roll out, we continue to see local authority budgets cut and we are seeing services withdrawn from people. There are clear concerns about the roll out of Universal Credit.

She added: “There are possibly hundreds of infringements on individual rights, whether that be through PIP, sanctions, people whose services have been withdrawn at a local level.

“More people are clearly falling into poverty and the capacity of local authorities to pick that up, both now and in the future, is being reduced by austerity.”

Alston, who will not comment until his visit is complete, is known for pulling no punches. In June he called on US authorities to provide better social protection following an official fact-finding visit, and said President Donald Trump must stop “punishing and imprisoning the poor”.

Peter Kelly, chair of Poverty Alliance, which will launch the annual Challenge Poverty Week tomorrow, said: “We would expect [Alston] to uncover and point to the ongoing impact of austerity. The impact of welfare reform has been cumulative and ongoing in recent years.

“Poverty is a fundamental denial of fundamental human rights.”

He claimed that though much of the suffering was caused by policies developed and implemented by Westminster it was important the Scottish Government did everything its power to mitigate the effects.

“We are hoping that this [visit] will also cast a spotlight whether we are adequately addressing poverty in Scotland,” he added. “Scotland is a compassionate country but we need to highlight the important steps that could be taken in setting out on a different direction.”

One of those might be to further devolve social security to the Scotland, he said.

On Tuesday the Joseph Rowntree Foundation is due to publish its annual findings on Poverty in Scotland, this year exploring the “higher risks and poverty rates for families with children”. Though poverty has been consistently lower in Scotland than the rest of the UK for the last decade, figures suggest it has continued to rise. In each year between 2014-2017 one million people were living in poverty.

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said Scotland was the only country in the UK to set statutory targets to reduce child poverty. “We also continue to work with councils through our Scottish Welfare Fund to provide a safety net for vulnerable people on low income,” she said.

“While we will gain powers over 15% of social security spending we cannot reverse the £3.7 billion annual cuts imposed by the UK Government by 2021, which are set to take a stark toll on families and children.” This year it expects to spend over £125 million on welfare mitigation and measures to help protect those on low incomes.

The UK Prime Minister’s office did not offer comment.

ABC Note add a comment and have you say below

Leave a comment

Make sure you enter all the required information, indicated by an asterisk (*). HTML code is not allowed.

Join
FREE
Here

GET STARTED

ABCorgdotnet Interserve: Major Government Contractor Seeks Second Rescue Deal - Association of Pensions & Benefits Claimants CIC https://t.co/xBezw6QwHh
ABCorgdotnet Please Join the ABC on Tuesday LIVE for the House of Commons Brexit Debate - Association of Pensions & Benefits Cla… https://t.co/fMswdQfrGr
ABCorgdotnet The Committee on Exiting the European Union Give Thumbs Down to Prime Minister Mays Deal - Association of Pensions… https://t.co/OCRLP7lfqU
ABCorgdotnet House of Commons Tuesday 11 December 2018 - Conclusion of Debate on Section 13 (1)(b) of the European Union (Withdr… https://t.co/5lJ8oxgsQz
ABCorgdotnet The European Court of Justice to Sit And Decide Can The U.K.’S Article 50 Notification That Triggered Its EU Exit C… https://t.co/SG0czPF2AU